Take an Artist’s Date to the Museum

Posted on in On Our Radar by Rebekah Olstad


When was the last time you nurtured your creative self? In her seminal book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron prescribes weekly artist “dates” to nurture the creative spirit. On each date, one has the opportunity to engage a curiosity, learn something new, and gain a new perspective on the world—all invaluable experiences to fuel creative fire. Artist dates can take many forms, from taking a walk through a neighborhood you normally pass by, to constructing an art project from found objects, to sketching your own versions of famous artworks in a museum. There’s no limit to the ways we can draw inspiration from the world around us to help inform and motivate our creative work and being.

If seeking inspiration in museums calls to you, then you’re in luck. Here in the Bay Area, we have several world-class museums showcasing developments in art, science, nature, and history. Many Bay Area museums are known for pushing the edge of educational programming for both children and adults, offering ways for the public to engage that go above and beyond browsing exhibit halls. Museums are hosting parties, art happenings, workshops, guest lecturers, low-cost community dance classes, interactive art projects, and film screenings, just to list a few. Many museums are also making an effort to be more accessible by offering free or discounted museum admission during some evening events, in addition to participating in yearly free days. The list of stellar museums in the Bay Area is long and varied—accompanying this article, you’ll find just a few recommendations to spark your own artist dates and creative adventures this summer and beyond.

Curious about ecology, biology, and the natural world at large? It’s hard to beat a trip to the California Academy of Sciences, home to scientists and educators working to explore, explain, and sustain the diversity of life. The academy houses a diverse number of collections including an aquarium, planetarium, living rainforest, and of course, a natural history museum. With so much to explore, it’s easy to come back to the academy multiple times and learn something new with each visit. If you have recently been spotting whales on their migratory journeys off the coast, you may particularly appreciate one of the featured exhibits, Whales: Giants of the Deep, on display through November 29, exploring the biology, behavior, and cultural significance of whales. Explore the museum in the daytime, or join one of their weekly NightLife parties with live music and art, and discounted admission.

Another Bay Area favorite, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, offers diverse workshops, events, and performances, several of which are free or low cost. The ConVerge series, for instance, is a free monthly public gathering featuring creative and generative art practices. Past ConVerges have featured performing arts premieres and discussions with local art leaders about how to continue fostering the vibrant SF art scene. Sometimes there’s no better way to be creative than to move your body—YBCA’s “50-cent tabernacle” is a monthly daylong workshop for dancers of all backgrounds, from “never taken a dance class before” all the way up to working professionals, to come together in community dance classes. The 50-cent admission fee gives you a whole day’s access to classes with leading Bay Area dance artists.

In the East Bay, the Oakland Museum of California features the art, history, and natural science of California. In Who Is Oakland?, running through July 12, nine Oakland artists explore their visions and interpretations of the city today. You can also participate in hands-on learning about California honeybees through Bees: Tiny Insects, Big Impact, on display through September 20. You’ll learn about why California honeybees (and their global counterparts) are declining, and the simple things we as Californians can do to help bees survive in a changing climate. The Oakland Museum of California also hosts Friday Nights at OMCA, a weekly, family-friendly gathering with food, live music, crafts, and discounted museum admission.

A smaller, more off-the-beaten-path museum, the Bonsai Garden at Lake Merritt, will interest tree and curiosity lovers. The garden displays a carefully curated and tended collection of over 100 bonsai trees, many of which are hundreds of years old. Many native California trees are on display—make sure to catch species of redwoods, California juniper, and Carmel oak in their miniature forms. Entrance is free, although donations to the Bonsai Garden are greatly appreciated. Once you’re finished viewing the bonsai, you can continue your artist’s date strolling in the Gardens at Lake Merritt next door.

So next time you’re feeling stuck or in a creative rut, try taking advantage of the many diverse and plentiful museums we’re lucky enough to be close to here in the Bay Area. Or better yet, try creating a weekly ritual to explore as many museums as you can. The museums above, and many others, are home to inspiring works of art, culture, science, and history that can help us learn, make new connections between seemingly unconnected fields, shift our perspectives, and stoke our creative fires.

Rebekah Olstad is a Bay Area freelance writer. @rebekah_autumn


  • » California Academy of Sciences CalAcademy.org
  • » Yerba Buena Center for the Arts YBCA.org
  • » Oakland Museum of California MuseumCA.org
  • » Bonsai Foundation at Lake Merritt GSBF-LakeMerritt.org

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our once-monthly newsletter to get all the latest news & resources

No spam. Unsubscribe any time.